Maybe you’ve heard a thing or two about the shady prison camp on the coast Guantanamo Bay. Or maybe you’ve avoided the news for the past 20 years or so and have no idea what it really is. Regardless, most people just kind of know Guantanamo Bay (the prison camp) exists, but not much more. So let’s clear some things up; where is Guantanamo Bay, and what exactly do we know about it?
Where Is Guantanamo Bay?
At this point Guantanamo Bay (the bay) has basically become synonymous with the US-operated detention center that is located there. It’s also been called Guantánamo, G-Bay, and GTMO (Gitmo). It sits nicely on the southeastern part of Cuba, in the Guantánamo Province. In 1903, America took control of the space that would eventually make up Guantanamo Bay. Cuba still isn’t very happy about it (since the treaties were signed under duress, and maintained later in the 20th century with nukes).
However, the 1903 agreement between America and Cuba over Guantanamo can only be terminated on a mutual agreement. Given where America is right now, this doesn’t look like it is in Guantanamo’s near future.
When we say America took the region that would become Guantanamo Bay in 1903, it’s a little misleading. What we mean is that the Naval Base on Guantanamo Bay was established around then. However, the actual detention facility most people know the bay for gained notoriety in 2001. Just so everyone is on the same page here, yes, Guantanamo (the detention facility) Bay was expanded as a direct response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Before the early 2000s, the bay was used to detain both Cubans and Haitian refugees.
After the attacks in 2001, the Bush Administration would begin the War on Terror. The first detainees from Afghanistan and Pakistan would arrive in the beginning of 2002. Detainees in Guantanamo wouldn’t be afforded protections under the Geneva Convention (the thing that keeps us from being war criminals) until 2004–even then the US Supreme Court left their ruling open to interpretation. By that we mean there was still a lot of flexibility in terms of how detainees would be protected. We’ll get into it later, but suffice to say human rights still weren’t, and aren’t, a big concern.
Further reading: What Is the Geneva Convention?
Obama & Guantanamo
President Obama would attempt to shut down the detention facility after mounting controversy–but he met very strong congressional opposition. He did end up reducing the number of prisoners from 245 to 41 (by getting them either to other countries or other facilities within the US).
Obama’s efforts to close the detention facility ended up never coming to pass. As far as the near future goes, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be closing anytime soon. At the beginning of 2018, Donald Trump placed an executive order that would keep Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely to detain “bad dudes”. Since then, only one prisoner has been transferred out of Guantanamo Bay. At least for the time being, Guantanamo Bay will have to be addressed by the Trump Administration’s successor.
Torture at Guantanamo
Most people know that yes, torture does go on quite regularly at Guantanamo Bay. Some of our readers, though, might think that it’s just one of those “open secret” type things. We all know it happens, but the government has never come out and said it. That’s not actually true. In 2009, Susan J. Crawford would be the first official in the Bush Administration stating that torture occurred at Guantanamo Bay at least once.
We do have records of FBI agents visiting the center and discussing the maltreatment there too. Most of the larger statements issued by the federal government refer to this as “Enhanced Interrogation”.
If you’re not convinced “Enhanced Interrogation” just means “torture,” we’ll give you a light summary. In 2004, an FBI agent was quoted to have seen prisoners chained by hand and feet to the ground, without access to food or water (they didn’t have a chair). Oftentimes these detainees had soiled themselves because they would be left like this for 24+ hours. There’s also waterboarding, which Donald Trump has openly said he wants to bring back (this isn’t likely to happen). We do know that waterboarding was once a thing at Guantanamo Bay though.
There are reports of forced injection, psychological abuse, and many instances of rape as well. We won’t describe any of these in detail, you can find these on your own. The forced injections were often further fueled by racism (as if the War on Terror wasn’t already). It shouldn’t be surprising that the vast majority of prisoners were Middle Eastern (most from Afghanistan or Pakistan). As a part of Islam, many observe Ramadan; a ~1 month fasting period. Most of these forced injections were methods to keep prisoners fed during this time, with the occasional feeding tube forced down one’s throat.
More Human Rights Violations & Controversies
The controversies don’t stop at just torture and racism though. When the first detainees were sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2002, the Bush Administration openly stated that these individuals would not be protected by the Geneva Convention. You can imagine the kind of backlash that happened, hence the 2004 ruling we mentioned earlier. Not that it really helped, but it was something.
There was also confirmation in 2005 that almost 80% of prisoners weren’t captured by American soldiers. They were captured by Pakistani and Afghan bounty hunters for about $5,000 USD per prisoner. A 2006 report by the Center for Policy and Research would find that many detainees were low level offenders–as in not affiliated with organizations America considered terrorists. Ergo many detainees in the facility for the War on Terror were not, by America’s own classification, members of high profile terrorist syndicates. It’s like saying you’re going to end organized crime nationwide, and then only arrest petty thieves.
In 2010, it came in an affidavit to US officials (including Bush and VP Cheney) that most of the people sent to Guantanamo in the first 2002 wave were not only innocent, but that it was known they were innocent. They were detained for “expedience”.
If you’re still not convinced, there’s the story of Specialist Sean Baker. In a drill, he posed as an uncooperative prisoner (the guards working with him did not know he was a member of the US Army). Baker was beaten so severely he suffered brain trauma and major seizures, beating which continued even after he used the safe-word to stop the drill.
A video that should have been made of the drill (as is procedure) has never been produced. On top of that, a spokeswoman for the US Southern Command not only questioned the validity of Baker’s injuries, but denied that he was medically discharged as a result of the drill. That denial has since been rolled back by the US army, while the individual spokeswoman has stuck to her guns.
Guantanamo Bay Now
So suffice to say that Guantanamo Bay has been lambasted by both Americans and the international community alike, having been called by multiple organizations “the Gulag of our times”. Not only for the torture and all the stuff we’ve already said, but also because these people were detained under the pretense that they would be locked away indefinitely (which is another human rights violation).
As recently as April 2019, the commander in charge of Guantanamo Bay has been fired, as US Southern Command had lost confidence in him.
Many prisoners are now awaiting trial, and have been for months.
Reading about human rights violations is exhausting, here’s a quiz about puppies to bleach your mind.